Ostwald's Energetics and the Generalization of Science around 1900

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“Generality” is a key ideal in the interaction between the sciences (in the broad sense) and broader cultural domains. We find this ideal at work, very visibly, in innovative fields within mathematics, where it has generated concepts such as “manifold” or “group” that sit precisely between everyday usage and technical meaning. This paper reconstructs how Wilhelm Ostwald uses this kind of concepts and how he consistently employs an interplay between the technical and the everyday usage of these terms in his philosophy of nature̶these conceptual means contribute to framing the philosophy of nature as the “most general part of science.” This implies, in particular, that Ostwald’s energeticism itself is only a partial realization of a broader program in which the notion of “order” and relational structures more generally replace the notion of energy. At the same time, these strategies are shown to establish links between Ostwald’s naturalist program and the foundations of the humanities and here, in particular, with the key ideas of hermeneutics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-18
JournalHistoria Scientiarum: International Journal of the History of Science Society of Japan
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Generality
  • philosophy of nature
  • manifolds
  • theory of order
  • naturalized hermeneutics


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